Posts Tagged ‘Channing Frye’

The Finals Live Blog — Game 7

OAKLAND — Respect the game.

Respect the moment.

Respect the opponent.

But have no fear.

There isn’t much more to say before what is the ultimate game in this sport, the Game 7 showdown in The Finals between two championship-caliber teams who have circled and stalked each other over the course of the past 12 months.

The reigning champion Golden State Warriors, led by their two-time and unanimous (this season) MVP Stephen Curry against the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James, playing for all the marbles on the final day of this NBA season is the ideal way to finish any NBA season.

This has only happened 18 times in the storied history of this league and the home team has the historical edge, owning a robust 15-3 record in said games, including six straight triumphs. The 19th playing of a Finals Game 7 brings us a player attempting to establish himself as one of the top two or three players to ever play the game in James, and another, in Curry, who is seeking to justify his place in that same conversation among the top current players in the game.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love and plenty of others will play their roles in this epic, winner-take-all saga. All eyes early on, however, will be on the battle inside the battle between Steph and LeBron.

Whose will is greater?

Whose nerves survive the moment?

Whose supporting cast comes to the rescue first?

We find out in the next 48 minutes (and possibly more) of action. The world is watching, from right here in the Bay Area and back to LeBron’s beloved Cleveland and northeast Ohio and beyond.

We can sort out the impact on the winner and loser later, whose legacy gets the boost and whose takes the hit. Right now, it’s about this one game, just one game for the right to be called champion.

It’s all on the line tonight, here at Oracle Arena, a championship for the taking … HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!!

***

He’s ready!

***

You know he’s ready …

***

Stephen Curry, pre-game.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

***

Dwayne Wade in the building. He’s handled his business in a Game 7 before …

***

This game is a kind of a big deal here in Oakland and the Bay Area.

***

They are cranked up back in Cleveland, too. Trying to end that title drought.

***

As I mentioned, there have been some memorable Game 7s before this one …

***

Akron’s got your back LeBron!

***

Hmmmm …

***

It is a “young man’s game.”

***

***

Time to get it in. Got your popcorn ready?

***

A great Game 7 is all anyone’s asking for. In a strange series marked by blowouts, give us one down to the wire.

***

***

***

Prime Time’s fearless prediction …

***

By Any Means Necessary approach from Steve Kerr tonight.

***

 

***

***

It’s early, relax peoples.

***

Yes he does!

***

***

***

LeBron turned the one over, too!

***

***

***

Sorry, need one more look.

***

His handle is wicked, too.

***

Kevin Love came to play!

***

Things change …

***

Rebounding remains the most glaring issue for the Warriors.

***

END OF FIRST QUARTER CAVALIERS 23, WARRIORS 22

***

***

Ask and you shall receive #giveusoneclosegame

***

He’s #CLEAN

***

Steph going to the cup for the hoop and the foul.

***

Draymond is 5-for-7 from the floor, a perfect 3-for-3 from deep and has 13 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds.

***

***

***

Dave is down with the Warriors!

***

LeBron is just waiting on this one every time.

***

Great players make great plays non-stop in a wild Game 7 environment. #ShowUpShowOut

***

***

***

Steph picks up his third foul just before halftime on a questionable one …

***

***

***

***

HALFTIME WARRIORS 49, CAVALIERS 42

The Global Game!

***

***

***

Another look at Steph’s third foul … ?

***

Warriors lead vanishes in mere minutes. JR cooking. Kyrie cooking. And Barnes and Ezeli continue to struggle on both ends.

***

***

***

Steph on both ends, Warriors back up 59-54 … we seem to be getting that great game we’ve been looking for.

***

***

***

***

Warriors bigs are struggling something terrible, on both ends.

***

Kyrie taking control. Cavs put together a wicked 11-0 run to take a 65-59 lead. Warriors turning it over, missing shots and getting caught up in the moment?

***

***

***

It could wild in Cleveland tonight …

***

And then the Warriors tied the game on a Livingston dunk. We’re back to even at 71 with 1:56 to play in the third.

(Draymond sank three free throws and then hit a three before that.)

***

END OF THIRD QUARTER WARRIORS 76, CAVALIERS 75 … Game 7 living up to the hype and then some.

***

The Internet wins tonight no matter what, due to things like this …

***

***

***

***

Back-to-back buckets from the Splash Brothers. Warriors take the lead 85-83 with 6:16 to play.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥

A photo posted by Golden State Warriors (@warriors) on

***

***

***

***

***

***

We’re tied at 89 with 2:50 to play … CRAZY!

***

***

***

LeBron with the eraser of a potential go-ahead layup from Iguodala. UNREAL!

***

***

Kyrie with the dagger from 3 with 53 seconds to play, Cavs up 92-89 and have the ball after a Steph heave that bounces wide.

***

LeBron makes the second of two free throws and Cleveland is 10.6 seconds away from ending the title drought. It’s officially his city if they finish this off.

CAVALIERS 93, WARRIORS 89 … from 3-1 down to dethrone the champs. LeBron finally lives his dream and brings a title to The Land!

The Warriors cannot finish their dream season. The title they thought was theirs was not.

***

***

***

***

We did it, Cleveland. #NBAChampions | #OneForTheLand

A photo posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

***

***

 

Frye awaits Finals moment with Love ruled out for Game 3

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Channing Frye was one of just two Cleveland Cavaliers who spoke to the media Wednesday morning after shootaround, so reporters weren’t going to let him get away quickly. That didn’t go over so well with the other guy who spoke, LeBron James, who interrupted one of Frye’s responses by urging him to wrap things up.

“C’mon, man, we’ve got work to do,” James said from behind the cluster of reporters, part teasing, part serious from the tone of it.

“Listen, man, they’re asking me questions,” Frye said, chuckling. “This is my one shining moment.”

And strictly speaking, it was, given Frye’s low participation rate through the first two games of The 2016 Finals. Whether out of need or out of desperation, with the Cavaliers down 2-0 in the best-of-seven championship series, that will change tonight at Quicken Loans Arena (9 ET, ABC).

Kevin Love, Cleveland’s starting small forward, was ruled out for Game 3 on Wednesday afternoon after it was learned he was not medically cleared to play. Love got hit in the back of the head by an errant elbow from Golden State’s Harrison Barnes in the second quarter of Game 2 Sunday in Oakland, and exited in the third quarter. Earlier in the day, a Cavs spokesman said Love had participated in “a portion” of the shootaround.

With Love unable to play in Game 3, Frye is one of coach Tyronn Lue‘s options to see more court time.

Through two games, Frye has played only 11 minutes total, missing his only two shots and making a pair of free throws. Compare that Frye’s work through the first three rounds of the playoffs: 15.7 minutes per game, 8.6 ppg and 2.9 rpg, while shooting 62.1 percent overall and 57.8 on 3-pointers.

Given Love’s spotty play (29.1 mpg, 11.0 ppg, 8.0 ppg, 37.5 percent shooting), Frye might seem like an option for longer looks even if Love had been available. But Golden State’s preference for “small ball” has kept the 6-foot-11 Frye — who doesn’t play as “big” as his size would suggest, yet doesn’t have great foot speed when the game goes “small” — on the side. The same goes for center Timofey Mozgov, the 7-foot-1 big man who played a big role in last season’s push to The Finals but has averaged just 6.5 minutes while sitting out six of Cleveland’s 16 postseason games this time.

That’s what Golden State’s pesky, mobile, mid-sized tactics can do to bigs.

“You see when I step past half-court, those guys are always an arm’s reach away from me,” Frye said. “Sometimes it’s not about the stats and I think a lot of people dwell on that. The minutes I get in there, I try to do the best I can with what I got. Again, I’ve just got to worry about that and not look at it like — it’s not a pity party — I’m not like ‘Why am I not playing?’ I’ve just got to say, ‘Hey, when I do get my minutes, I’ve got to go out there and do better and see if I can get things going faster.’ ”

Frye, acquired at the trade deadline, has been a valuable addition to Cleveland’s mix both on and off the floor. He led the Cavs with 27 points in 28 minutes off the bench in a Game 3 win in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Meanwhile, his veteran perspective and sense of humor have been welcome over the past three-plus months.

So far this series, though, his contributions have been limited to the latter stuff.

“When I came here, I understood we’re a very deep team,” Frye said. “Different matchups work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Coach is trying to figure out the lineup that’s going to work the best. Obviously they play small and they really aren’t playing their centers. Then the next guy comes in and he’s about 6-6.

“I’m here to help the team win,” Frye added. “If that’s getting five minutes, I have to bust my ass for five minutes.”

James spoke before Frye and generally talked about the Cavs needing to be better on both sides of the ball, being more aggressive and otherwise not pulling back the curtain on any strategic or mental adjustments.

Asked about his team’s approach about Love before he was ruled out for Game 3, James simply said: “Next man up.”

Maybe that man will be Frye, maybe it won’t. He’s due for a better shining moment than he got Wednesday morning.

Morning shootaround — June 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs looking for their defense | Turner: Mid-range shots are ‘the future’ | Presti confident about OKC’s offseason | Chandler says he’s ‘happy’ for now in Phoenix

No. 1: Cavs looking defenseless in these Finals The Cleveland Cavaliers rumbled through the Eastern Conference portion of the 2016 playoff bracket, shielding themselves from just about every blow the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors could throw at them. As Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com points out, Cavs star LeBron James took that shield metaphor literally early on, giving each of his teammates a literal shield to illustrate how the team must stand strong together to reach its title goal. Yet as Cleveland faces a 2-0 series deficit in The Finals, it is left at a loss for what to do next:

Golden State is up 2-0 following a 110-77 battering of the Cavs Sunday night at Oracle Arena. After cruising through the first three rounds with a 12-2 mark, Cleveland has been outscored in this series by a staggering 48 points.

“What we’ve done these last two games doesn’t put a damper or a cloud over how we got to this point,” James argued. “We’re still here…”

Cleveland won’t be here for long if this continues.

Right now the Cavaliers, who possess the second-highest payroll in league history, are defenseless and the outcomes have shown as much. They’re absent of a shield, but most significantly they’re absent of fight. They’re going up against a Western Conference predator who’s equipped with an abundance of ammo and all the Cavaliers have done is scurried for cover.

Is home court at The Q going to make that huge of a difference come Wednesday? Cleveland had two days to prepare for Game 2, and yet still rolled up in a ball when adversity came knocking.

Before Kevin Love exited the game with concussion symptoms, he suffered from Draymond Green symptoms. The Warriors’ forward was in his head and made it a point to stay attached to Love more than he did in Game 1.

Love was 2-of-7 from the field with three boards in 20 minutes of play. He looked intimidated. It looked like he didn’t want any part of that game. Green was so glued to him that Love gave him a little shove in the first half. Green just smiled, and got right back in Love’s personal space.

Kyrie Irving struggled the most, going 5-of-14 for 10 points in 33 minutes. He’s now shooting 33 percent for the series. But the team typically goes as the leader of the team goes.

“LeBron is in a unique situation to where we all know how (bleeping) good he really is,” Channing Frye said. “The humility he has with us shows us, ‘Hey, I need you guys for all of us to succeed.’ We know he’s going to help us, but he needs everybody to be locked in.”

First and foremost, James needs to be locked in. In these two games, the four-time MVP is averaging 21.0 points on 42 percent shooting and has coughed the ball up 11 times. The Warriors have suddenly transformed into a scary defensive bunch.

The perimeter defensive mixture of Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Green has been a nightmare for James. Whether James wants to admit it or not, he is being contained. And if he’s contained, the Cavaliers will end up being ashamed when it’s all said and done. The series is far from over, but the poor body language and the disconnect in communication is in dire need of repair.

James and the Cavaliers are being exposed before our very eyes, and there’s no shield that can hide that.

Film Study: Warriors double and recover

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers arrived at The Finals as the most efficient offensive team in the playoffs by a wide margin, having scored more than 116 points per 100 possessions through the first three rounds. And they did it against three above-average defensive teams, including the team — Atlanta — that had the league’s best defense after Christmas.

In Game 1 on Thursday though, the Cavs were held under a point per possession for just the second time in the postseason. They shot 38 percent and had as many turnovers (17) as assists. And it was a good time to remember that the Golden State Warriors can be the best defensive team in the league when they’re locked in.

The key to the Warriors’ defensive success is their versatility, having multiple guys who can defend multiple guys. And on Thursday, the defending champs switched screens liberally in order to keep the Cavs in front of them.

That stifled Cleveland’s ball movement and had the Cavs trying to exploit one-on-one matchups. But the Warriors also double-teamed liberally and were quick to help whenever the Cavs got near the basket, where they shot just 17-for-35.

Those 35 attempts in the restricted area were a postseason high for the Cavs. And interestingly, one of the three times they topped that number in the regular season was their Christmas game at Golden State, when they shot 16-for-40 in the restricted area.

“I thought we did a good job of challenging a lot of shots,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday. “I thought they missed a couple that they would normally make, but all in all it was a good defensive effort.”

The Cavs can beat you both at the basket and from beyond the arc. In Game 1 of the conference finals, the Toronto Raptors focused on slowing down Cleveland’s 3-point shooting and gave up too many layups. On Thursday, the Warriors clearly made protecting the paint their No. 1 priority.

Here’s LeBron James backing down Stephen Curry after a switch, with both Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green (who’s leaving Kevin Love alone in the opposite corner) ready to help at the basket.

20160602_james_curry

Love missed an open corner three.

“When Steph switches on to him,” Kerr said, “he’s just got to do his best to stay in front, and we’ve got to help as much as we can, without giving up open threes. It’s much easier said than done, so we’re just doing our best.”

Three possessions later, James was backing down Klay Thompson after another switch, with Ezeli and Green again moving into position to help…

20160602_james_thompson1

James has always been one of the league’s best finishers. But according to SportVU, his field goal percentage at the rim drops from 68 percent when there’s one defender there to 58 percent when there’s two or more. And his first instinct when he sees a second defender is to pass the ball.

“They’re switching 1 through 5,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, “and when LeBron gets the ball in the post, they’re coming to double team. Also, when he gets the mismatch and he drives the basketball, they’re all collapsing. And we’ve got to make open 3s.”

But when the Warriors prioritize protecting the rim, it doesn’t mean that they’re willing to give up open 3s. All the attention that James was drawing after switches should have resulted in more open looks for his teammates, but the Warriors were on a string defensively and Green, in particular, did a great job of recovering out to his man after helping in the paint.

Here he is closing out on Love just two seconds after helping on James under the basket …

20160602_james_thompson2

Result: A Kyrie Irving isolation and a missed step-back jumper.

On the following possession, Green left Love to help on a Tristan Thompson roll to the basket …

20160602_thompson_roll

He blocked Thompson at the rim, leading to a 24-second violation.

Throughout the game, the Warriors were quick to send double-teams on post-ups …

20160602_post_double1

20160602_post_double2

20160602_post_double3

And also load up the strong side with an extra defender …

20160602_overload

The Cavs, more often than not, were unable to take advantage. The Warriors rotations were generally great. But also, according to SportVU, 19 of Cleveland’s 21 3-point attempts were uncontested. The Cavs shot 37 percent (7-for-19) on those shots, down from a mark of 46 percent through the first three rounds.

Channing Frye was 24-for-40 (60 percent) on uncontested 3s before Thursday, but got just one look at one in Game 1. Cleveland didn’t use its floor-spacing lineups as much as it had in previous series. Thompson’s 31 minutes were the most he’s played since Game 1 of the conference semifinals and Frye’s seven minutes (including 2:24 of garbage time) were the fewest he’s played since that same game.

That was a clear sacrifice of offense for better defense. Thompson isn’t exactly Bill Russell out there, but Frye would have an even harder time keeping up with the Warriors’ ball and player movement. When Golden State used Green at the five against the Cavs’ second unit, Lue sat Frye down.

The question for Lue is whether Frye can make up for his defensive issues by making the Warriors pay for loading up on James. On Friday, Lue hinted that we will see more minutes for Frye in Game 2 on Sunday.

“We have to get more shooting out on the floor to try to keep those guys at home on the defensive end,” Lue said. “They do a good job of having a guy guard a ball and four guys are in the paint. So Channing will give us some spacing out on the floor. And just defensively, we’ve got to be able to make sure we have him on the right matchup.”

James believes the Cavs can’t waste time as their exploring those post-switch mismatches. Quicker decisions can produce more open shots.

“When you’re out there and they’re switching and you have a one-on-one matchup,” James said, “I think quick moves and not holding it as long is good. I think when you keep the ball on one side for too long and you’re pounding and pounding and pounding, then that can — too much of that won’t result in good basketball. It won’t result in good rhythm for everyone out on the floor.

“So there is a fine line. I’m okay with us having some isolation basketball if we’re going quick. But we’re holding the ball and we’re just staring down the defense and we’re staring down the ball, then it can become a problem for us.”

It wasn’t as big of a problem against their Eastern Conference opponents, who had to pick their poison, either dying by paint points or by 3s. The Warriors weren’t as highly ranked defensively as the Hawks were in the regular season, but they had the league’s No. 1 defense a year ago, they shut down the Cavs’ offense in last year’s Finals, and no team is more qualified to defend both the basket and the 3-point line.

“You have to be on a string,” Andre Iguodala said. “You have to know your rotations. You have to know where you want the ball to go, and you kind of influence the ball to go there. Meaning if you got a great shooter in the corner, you might want to influence the ball to go to the wing and, either we’re stunting or we’re X-ing out. It’s the shell defensive principles, but you got to have five guys on the same page. You got to be communicating in order for it to work.”

Most of Game 1 was a clinic in just that.

The Finals Live Blog — Game 1

Draymond from the corner.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

OAKLAND  — The Cleveland Cavaliers don’t want you to call it a rematch of the 2015 Finals. They insist this year’s team is so drastically different at this stage of the season that it’s unfair to call this series against the Golden State Warriors a “rematch.”

Kevin Love is healthy. Kyrie Irving, who went down late in Game 1 last year with a cracked knee cap and missed the remainder of the series, is back and healthy. LeBron James is certainly healthy and rested after the Cavaliers smashed their way through the Eastern Conference finals.

But what is this if it’s not a rematch?

The same two teams going at for the second straight season for the Larry O’Brien Trophy … sounds like a rematch to me. I bet it sounds like a rematch to the reigning two-time (and this time unanimous) KIA MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (that’s him up top in black and white) and the rest of the champion Warriors and the raucous crowd here filling up Oracle Arena as we get closer to tip off of Game 1 of these 2016 Finals.

Just call it what it is.

Round 2.

The Remix.

Part II.

#NBAFinals — Dubs-Cavs II

It’s a rematch. And it’s the one we all wanted. It’s okay to admit it now that they’ve both made it back here.

Don’t tell Harrison Barnes, who is back in the starting lineup for the Warriors, that it’s not a rematch.

***

There are all sorts of lineup and rotation tweaks that will determine this series, which is exactly what you want in #NBAFinals

***

Keep an eye on the long ball tonight and throughout this series!

An #NBAFinals matchup filled with storylines

A video posted by @nbatv on

***

Waiting on John Legend to do his thing with the anthem now …

Dude can sing a little bit. #nbafinals John Legend

A photo posted by Sekou Smith (@sekou3000) on

***

Still trying to figure out who is playing the villain in this series?

***

C’mon man, leave Mark Jackson alone!

***

Full circle for Coach Kerr and Coach Lue …

***

Great question!

***

If he can’t the Cavs are in for a rough ride.

***

I said John Legend on the vocals with the anthem …

***

Play the percentages, huh? This is the #NBAFinals!

***

Sooner or later someone is going to learn switching these bigs on to Steph!

***

Love off the bench? Nah!

***

Just in case you were wondering …

***

Whoop, whoop!

***

Whenever he feels like it, folks!

***

Y’all aren’t tired from that 7-gamer against the Thunder in the conference finals?

***

It’s okay to say it loud.

***

Kind of like last time.

***

ROARacle!

***

Agreed!

***

And the Razzie goes to … Day Day Green!

***

WARRIORS 28, CAVALIERS 24 at the end of the first.

Solid stuff from both sides. Warriors don’t look fatigued from the conference finals and the Cavaliers didn’t show much rust from their layoff.

***

Important stretch coming up. Seriously.

***

Welp!

***

Hustle Hard!

***

Don’t we all …

***

Bench mob doing the job!

***

It does have a throwback feel to it.

***

Barbosa = Ballin’

***

Flop warning for Ken Mauer.

***

Barbosa, the real MVP?

***

They shoot the ball so well we often forget this Warriors team plays some wicked defense!

***

Another angle …

***

#Shaqtin

***

They call it bully ball!

***

Plenty of game left to play. Plenty.

***

It usually works better when the Splash Brothers are out there together.

***

Dubs up 52-43 at the half.

***

***

@stephencurry30 knocks down his first triple of the #NBAFinals!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

***

@kingjames spins to the rim for the @cavs! #NBAFinals #phantomcam

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

***

Among other things … #SHADE

***

More #SHADE …

***

Somebody say something else about Larry Hughes and see what happens #StLouisStandUp

***

Sloppy stuff from the Dubs and the Cavs crawling back into this thing down 56-52 with 8:03 to play. Kerr needed a timeout.

***

Anybody seen the SPLASH BROTHERS?

***

It’s not all smiles with Steve Kerr!

***

Cavs battling their way back into this thing the hard way.

***

Interesting flashback …

***

Delly with a blow down low on Iguodala … ouch!

***

WARRIORS 74, CAVALIERS 68 after a brief power outage for the home team late in the third quarter.

Steph is not feeling the fire so far tonight …

And the Cavs are still up 78-68 with 11:10 to play. Helps when the reigning Finals MVP  and the bench crew are rolling.

***

***

***

Livingston is the old man at the park playing in cut-off jean shorts who only has a mid-range game and yet you cannot stop him!

***

Warriors up 88-72 with 8:34 to play and they have three guys off the bench in double figures while The Splash Brothers struggle with fouls and missed shots. #StrengthInNumbers, eh?

***

***

#FinalsShade

***

Showtime Warriors in the building. Steph with the no-look to Iguodala for the jam. Sick. 96-76 Dubs with 5:43 to play.

***

Podium Game for Livingston …

***

Fair or foul?

***

Just when thing started to get interesting down the stretch … #SPLASH

***

WARRIORS 104, CAVALIERS 89

Bench Brothers carry the Splash Brothers to the finish line in Game 1.

***

***

@theblurbarbosa gets to the rim for the @warriors! #NBAFinals #phantomcam

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

Blogtable: Who wins The 2016 Finals (and why)?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> Cavs or Warriors? Who you got and why?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Man. This should be great. Obviously Cleveland is at full strength this year compared to last, and presents far greater challenges for Golden State’s defense. But the Cavs don’t have the collective length and defensive athleticism that the Thunder has. Kyrie Irving is a nightmare with the ball, but the Warriors just survived seven games of Russell Westbrook‘s attacks, and Westbrook is a much more active defender than Irving. The Cavs’ bench is more experienced than OKC’s, but again, it isn’t as athletic. Size with quickness is what gave the Warriors problems. Stephen Curry looked better and better as the series with the Thunder went on; he’s not 100 percent, but he’s closer. I think this series comes down to a couple of things: 1. can Kevin Love really hurt Golden State offensively, to the point where the Warriors would have to do more than single-cover him with Draymond Green?, 2. can Cleveland score and/or protect the ball enough to keep the Warriors from getting out in transition, where lethal results almost always follow? My guesses are not quite enough of either. Warriors in 7.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comMaybe I’m bringing some Eastern Conference bias to this – I was basically embedded in Cleveland’s playoff run through Detroit, Atlanta and Toronto – but the way this team has played at its peak, the fit LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have found, coach Tyronn Lue‘s grasp of the reins and artful tweaks along the way, and the confidence the Cavs have in the 3-ball have won me over. Golden State will be facing a vastly different opponent this time around – and keep in mind, backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova hasn’t recklessly rolled over anybody’s ankle yet in these playoffs (cue ominous organ chord). Mostly, though, I’m thinking that LeBron With Help is a mighty force. There’s also an underlying urgency to his push back to The Finals, because this championship-to-The-‘Land business is going to be getting harder, not easier, with each passing season. Cavaliers in 6.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comHave you seen 73-9? Have you seen the comeback from 3-1? They have extraordinary talent, a still under-appreciated inner drive and just find a way. The Warriors will win it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comGolden State has come too far — through the long, challenging regular season, through the comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder — to stop now. Home court will pay off. Being able to throw multiple quality defenders at LeBron James, from Draymond Green to Andre Iguodala to the other help that will come on the double, will pay off. And, of course, the brothers Splash. The Warriors still have a little too much for the Cavs. Warriors in 7.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: A healthy Cavs team would’ve beaten the Warriors last year. Now? It could be wrong place, wrong time for the Cavs. Three critical players on the Warriors are better: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. And they still have a functional Finals MVP in Andre Iguodala. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are more cohesive but both will clearly defer to LeBron James when things get tight, turning the Cavs into a predictable outfit. I see it going seven games, but in the end, we’ll be scraping what’s left of Cleveland’s battered image off the sidewalk once again. Warriors in 7.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThis will be a much more enjoyable series than it was last year, when the Cavs scored less than a point per possession in all six games. Cleveland is a lot tougher to defend than they were a year ago, not only because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy, but also because they have a second unit that spreads the floor around LeBron James. But no team is more qualified to defend the Cavs than the Warriors, who will be impossible to stop over 4-7 games themselves. Warriors in 6.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I continue to believe that the Warriors are the superior team and the best shooting team I’ve seen in all of my years watching the NBA. And in this instance, I still believe them to be the superior team to the Cavaliers. That said, this series went six games last time with LeBron James playing without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for basically the entire series. It goes seven games this year with the Warriors still on top. In a battle of the best 3-point shooting teams in the game, I’m going with who is No. 1. Warriors in 7.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comAs a rule it is wrong to pick against the Warriors. They are the NBA’s most competitive team and its toughest out. And yet here comes LeBron James with a healthy roster to make amends for The 2015 Finals. The leading player of his generation returned to Cleveland to win the championship, and I think that’s going to be happen in Game 6 on his home floor. Cavaliers in 6.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: On the heels of my near-triumphant Thunder in 7 prediction, I’m not sure my voice holds much weight. But I digress. The Warriors hit a speed bump the last two weeks, and then righted the ship in a very public and impressive way, just in time to roll into The Finals against Cleveland. The way the Thunder were able to compete against Golden State was by playing lock-down defense, and I don’t think Cleveland can reach that level, or at least sustain it for four games. As good as Cleveland has been this postseason, I think the Warriors pick up where they left off and keep on running and shooting. Warriors in 6. 

Numbers preview: The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Time for the rematch.

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are back in The Finals. One team won a record 73 games in the regular season, but faced elimination three times in the playoffs. The other fired its coach in January, but cruised through the first three rounds.

All that doesn’t matter at this point. No matter how they got here, the Warriors and Cavs are back where they were a year ago. And the next 4-7 games will determine if Golden State finishes off its historical season the right way or if LeBron James finally brings a title to Cleveland.

This is the 14th time that the same two teams have met in The Finals in consecutive years. The team that won the first meeting has repeated in six of the previous 13 occurrences, while the team that lost the first time has gotten revenge seven times.

Going back to Game 4 of last year’s Finals, the Warriors have won five straight games (by an average of 16.4 points) against Cleveland. But this is a different Cavs team than the Warriors have seen before. The East champs have taken things to a new level offensively, with a potent starting lineup (different than the one Golden State faced in the regular season) and a second unit that has been impossible to guard.

Through three rounds, the Cavs have been the more prolific 3-point shooting team with the more efficient offense. They’ve been playing a much different style than what we saw in last year’s Finals. And both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy this time. Of course, the Warriors found a nice rhythm from beyond the arc in coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference finals.

The Cavs have the rest advantage. The Warriors have home-court advantage. There will be plenty of narratives to follow over the next few weeks, but the 2016 NBA title will be determined on the floor.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — May 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green on 3-1 series hole: ‘It’s stunning’ | Roberson comes through in Game 4 | Will Raptors be able to keep Biyombo? | Lue expects bigger role for Frye in Game 5

No. 1: Green: ‘This is not where we expected to be’ For all the wins the Golden State Warriors amassed in the regular season — 73 of them to be exact — what they wouldn’t give to have a win or two more this morning. After suffering another drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors are down 3-1 after last night’s 118-94 loss in Game 4. After the game, many of the Warriors were in many ways in a state of disbelief that their dream season is just one loss away from being over. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the scene in Golden State’s locker room and how this series has affected the team’s emotional center, forward Draymond Green:

These Golden State Warriors are a rollicking, rolling party bus, the loudest and surest sounds forever coming out this corner of the dressing room. For now, Draymond Green gathered himself in the stillness of the air, uncomfortable with the morose mood surrounding him. He sifted through text messages on his phone and confessed the truth over a sudden and spectacular failure in these Western Conference finals.

“It’s stunning,” Green told The Vertical. “This is not where we expected to be.”

Alone in the corner of the locker room – only the sound of showers in the distance – Green considered the circumstances of the Oklahoma City Thunder train running through these wobbly Warriors. The Warriors are down 3-1, the greatest regular season in NBA history slipping away on a lost trip to America’s dust bowl.

“Yeah, it’s pretty stunning,” Green said.

Green should’ve had Chesapeake Energy Arena livid that the NBA passed on suspending him, livid that he fed upon all the anger and channeled it into the destruction of the Thunder. All his life, Green found a way to validate his villainous basketball self, and he failed on Tuesday night.

“It’s who I am,” Green told The Vertical. “It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I’ve thrived off. It’s frustrating, because I know that’s who I always am.

“And right now, I’m not myself. I’m thinking too much, and that’s leading to all the things that I’m not supposed to be doing.

“I just … I just have to be me.”

Stephen Curry has been a shell of himself – missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble, and completely unable to prove that there’s Curry-esque agility in that knee. “He’s playing at 70 percent, at best,” a source close to Curry told The Vertical. Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something – no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Twenty points on 19 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.

For months, the Warriors were playing for history. Seventy-three victories, the best team ever and out of nowhere, Golden State is suddenly playing for its survival.

“Right there, that’s what it is,” Green told The Vertical. “We’re the leaders of this team, and we’ve got to be better. Last year, when we were down 2-1 (to Memphis), we talked and we said, ‘Hey, you and me have got to be better.’ And right now, we both have got to be better.”

Better won’t be good enough against this Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook monolith. Better will get them run out of Oracle in Game 5, run out of the season. The Thunder have been hungrier, sharper and constructed to force the Warriors to adapt to them. The Warriors have to be historic again, have to be one of the great teams in history to fight themselves out of this trouble, out of a 3-1 hole.

Money Green nodded late Monday night in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena, and agreed with it all. In the quiet of the losing locker room, in a private moment in the deep corner, he believed this too: “If anyone can do this,” Draymond Green of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors told The Vertical, “we can.”

Blogtable: Key player to watch in Eastern Conference finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Key player in West finals? | Key player in East finals? |
Which teams will reach The Finals?


> A key player in the Eastern Conference Finals – a player who needs to come up big — in order for his team to advance to the NBA Finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors’ backup center was a catalyst in Toronto’s clincher Sunday, and he’ll have to do the same for seven games if Toronto is to have a chance at pulling off the upset against Cleveland. The Cavs’ playoff lineup with Channing Frye at center has been one of the most lethal in the postseason, with an offensive rating of 127.2 AND a defensive rating of 88.1, per NBA.com/stats. The Raptors have to have a counter to match up against it, and it turns out that they do — with Biyombo, Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan and Cory Joseph. That quintet’s defensive rating is even better than Cleveland’s, at 87.8 points allowed per 100 possessions. Biyombo’s 17-point, 16-rebound effort Sunday has to be the norm against the Cavs.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com Not sure the Raptors can count on this, but if Terrence Ross can have two or three of his mindlessly hot scoring nights, Toronto’s ability to generate points improves dramatically. Ross scored 20 or more four times in 73 appearances, but I’m calling for him to get 20 at least three times if the Raptors are going to push their series to six or seven games.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comA year after he had an rather uncomfortable season trying to fit into the Cavaliers picture and then missed virtually all of the playoffs, Kevin Love has been a steady force through the first two rounds and if he keeps it up makes Cleveland quite capable of winning it all.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comLeBron James. Not exactly an X Factor, but let’s face it. He is the perfect fit for the answer: If LeBron comes up big, his team advances. He can singularly dominate a series as a player no opponent can counter, someone who can initiate the offense as a point guard and pound the boards like a power forward-center.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should be enough to send Toronto home in four. But for insurance’s sake, it’ll be less wear on those three if Channing Frye can continue pulling weight on Cleveland’s amazing 3-point surge. The goal for the Cavs is to win this series quickly and safely — remember, Love and Irving were injured last spring — and efficiently, saving gas for the NBA Finals.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Cavs don’t need J.R. Smith to continue to shoot 50 percent from 3-point range to get back to The Finals, but Smith is the ultimate wild card. Cleveland swept through the first two rounds on the strength of its 3-point shooting and Smith (31-for-61) was a big part of that. He’s been given license to shoot (as 61 of his 69 shots have come from beyond the arc), and a free-shooting Smith probably scares both coaching staffs. LeBron James makes him a better shooter and 45 of those 61 threes have been off the pass, but regression from Smith (either with shot selection or success rate) would make this series more interesting.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Two words I honestly never thought I’d utter or write in response to this question: Bismack Biyombo. I know, it sounds crazy. But with Jonas Valanciunas on the mend and the rebounding machine that is Tristan Thompson eager to show off for the local (Cleveland) and hometown (he’s from Toronto) fans, the Raptors will need someone to match his energy, effort and relentless hustle on the boards. After seeing the impact Biyombo had against the Miami Heat in the conference finals, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he steps up against the Cavaliers.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: LeBron James is the reason Cleveland will continue to dominate the Eastern bracket. The Cavs’ goal should be to finish off this series ASAP in order to send LeBron onto the NBA Finals on fresh legs, because they’re going to need 40 minutes or more per game from him against Golden State or OKC. This conference final is all about preparing Cleveland to win the NBA Finals.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, Cleveland is going to win this series, so instead of saying the obvious like LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, how about let’s go with Kevin Love? He seems to have found his fit with the Cavs as they’ve gone smaller, and this will be the deepest he’s ever played in his postseason career. I’m curious to see if Love can continue stretching the floor like he did against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Morning shootaround — May 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lillard’s helpers were invaluable | Miami’s dark side without Whiteside | Lowry comes back for Raptors | Jackson ‘owes’ Knicks job to Rambis?

No. 1:  Lillard’s helpers were invaluable — First things first: Without a medical degree, can you nonetheless hazard a guess as to whether Golden State’s Stephen Curry will play in Game 4 of his team’s Western Conference semifinals series at Portland on Monday night? Even before we got any official updates from Curry, coach Steve Kerr or the Warriors’ crackerjack media staff, it seemed likely Curry would test his sprained right knee rather than risk seeing Golden State slip to even, 2-2, in the best-of-seven series. As for how Portland even got it to 2-1, there was Damian Lillard‘s 40-point performance and then there was the work of other Blazers, such as Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe and Gerald Henderson. Those were the guys Draymond Green was moaning about, per Kevin Arnovitz‘s report for ESPN.com:

The way the Warriors saw it, they began to lose the game on the margins. Green sensed the Warriors could’ve effectively wrapped up the series in the first quarter had they only paid sufficient attention to the smaller details they generally master.

“That team — they had doubt,” Green said of the Trail Blazers. “You could just tell they were unsure about everything that they were doing in the first quarter. Then all of a sudden, like I said, you get a couple of offensive rebounds, hit a couple of shots, that’s when the crowd gets into it. That’s kind of what happened for them. I think right there in that first quarter, they felt like they were on the ropes and we didn’t really take advantage of that.”

When the Warriors ratcheted up their defense on Lillard after intermission, he just pitched the ball out to the likes of Allen Crabbe, Gerald Henderson (who took over defensive duties on [Klay] Thompson) and Aminu, who were a combined 6-for-6 from distance heading into the fourth quarter. Lillard assisted on 18 Trail Blazers points in the third quarter and scored another five of his own, as Portland extended their lead to 93-80 after three quarters.

“[Lillard] getting 40 — that’s not going to beat us if we don’t let Aminu get 23, Crabbe off the bench get 10,” Green said. “If we cover those guys, Dame’s 40 doesn’t beat us. C.J. [McCollum]’s 22 really don’t beat us if we cover the other guys. I think a big part of that fell on me.”

It’s a shame for Green, who put on an individual shooting display of his own in the third quarter. “Draymond from long range” can be a touchy subject in Warriors World, but with the Trail Blazers begging him to shoot from distance, Green politely obliged — draining 5-of-6 3-point attempts in the third quarter and matching a career high for the game with eight total. He finished the game with 37 points, while Thompson added 35.

“All that’s cute,” Green said of his prolific offensive production. “I didn’t do what I do for this team. I don’t feel like I led my troops tonight, and I feel like I was horrendous on the defensive end.”

***

 No. 2: Miami’s dark side without Whiteside — If the result of Hassan Whiteside‘s MRI Sunday is as troubling as he and the Miami Heat fear, if he’s facing even the 2-3 week layoff that Curry has endured for Golden State since slipping on that wet part of the court against Houston, then the Heat are in a bad way. Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald reminds us of young Whiteside’s value to that veteran club, his status as its X factor and the limitations it faces without him merely surviving the current series against Toronto, never mind a possible clash in the next round against Cleveland:

He was the one who, if channeled correctly, could lift this from a nice little squad to a fearsome one, a squad that could even scare the Cleveland Cavaliers should it come to that — since most teams to topple LeBron James in the playoffs have had at least two perimeter players who could make James work (which Miami has in [Luol] Deng and Justise Winslow) and a rim protector who could make him think. He was the unaccountable element, the one who might literally swat away a superior opponent, should he be energized, focused and disciplined for an extended stretch.

The Heat knew how much it needed him, Erik Spoelstra above all. That’s why, for all the warts (in Whiteside’s game) and worries (about his contract) Spoelstra invested more personal time in the 26-year-old center than anyone else in the past eight years. That’s why, on the Friday night prior to Game 3, with so much else at stake, Spoelstra was at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, dining in a group with Whiteside and Bill Russell, aiming to expose Whiteside to the ultimate winner.

That’s why Dwyane Wade, as the team leader, while critical of Whiteside at times, also took opportunities to pump him up, even suggesting this could be a “Hall of Fame career.”

This wasn’t just a passing interest, after all. The Heat wants to make Whiteside a core component, wants to see his development all the way through, especially after improvements in foul shooting and screen-setting and — to a degree — composure, in the second half of this second Miami season. And perhaps, regardless of the severity of the injury, that will still occur; maybe, in the worst case, it comes at a reduced cost in free agency in this cruelest of businesses.

But, for this particular postseason, it’s hard to see how the Heat competes for much without Whiteside. Win this series? Maybe. Wade nearly saved them Saturday, with a remarkable 38-point performance, and Udonis Haslem was his usual spirited self while playing a season-high 22 minutes. Heat players generally believe the Raptors are beatable, though some were baffled about why movement was mostly taken out of the offensive plan for Game 3. And Toronto started making rollicking rim runs as soon as Whiteside went out.

Beat Cleveland?

That seems fantasy. Wade has gone above and beyond already, and everything he’s doing should be appreciated. But the Cavaliers are rolling now, 7-0 in the postseason, seeming past their regular season drama.

Whiteside was always the X-factor.

Now he may be X’d out.

***

No. 3:  Lowry comes back for Raptors — Playoff basketball means more than hard fouls, no easy layups and cherished possessions. It also means seeing the individual highs and lows of the participants, usually under the brightest and least forgiving lights. When things are going well – say, for LeBron James or LaMarcus Aldridge these days – those lights can make a guy shimmer like the star he is. But when things are not going so well – think Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry – every flaw gets uncovered and it’s the heat of the lights that matter more than the illumination. Lowry had been suffering through a postseason of personal torment, the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote, until the second half of the Raptors’ Game 3 at Miami Saturday:

[Finally], Kyle Lowry came back. Toronto had been waiting for him, and he came back. The Raptors were winning Game 3 against the Miami Heat, who had lost their monster centre, and then the Raptors lost their monster centre, like this was some kind of chess match, like they had exchanged queens. The Heat started rolling, and Dwyane Wade, the old Hall of Famer, rose to the moment. The Heat crowd, a laid-back crew, were singing along with Seven Nation Army, thundering. The Raptors were coming apart.

But Kyle Lowry came back. He had hit a three-pointer to start the half, and then another. Hmm. The 30-year-old points had missed 96 of his last 139 shots, had openly said it was messing with his head. In Game 1 he had tried to avoid shooting the ball altogether. In this game, with Toronto’s two all-stars flailing again, [Jonas] Valanciunas had become the centre of things. Lowry had four points in a quiet first half.
Then Valanciunas was gone. Lowry came back.

“That’s the Kyle I know,” said DeMar DeRozan.

“Kyle went back to being Kyle,” said head coach Dwane Casey.

“I don’t think we played him that poorly, either,” said Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra.

Lowry’s third quarter was revelation, a flashback, a return. He scored 15 points, and Wade exploded for 18, and the game was tied entering the fourth. The Heat run reached 32-13 and with 8:49 left Miami was up six, and the Raptors’ offence looked gummed in glue again. All season long the Raptors relied on Lowry in these situations: they’d be up two or three, tight game, and he’d hit a string of middle-finger shots to cinch it.

Two games earlier his teammates said he looked beaten. His old friend Goran Dragic said he was thinking too much. All that vanished into the afternoon air.

“He was hitting shots, he was happy,” said Patrick Patterson. “We just tried to do whatever possible to keep him happy. We tried to free up some room for him to create opportunities, and just keep feeding the monster. He was hitting shots, and he was keeping us in that game. When he was hitting the shots, he started calling more plays for himself. He was just feeling it, saying he wanted the ball.”

Did Lowry tell them he was feeling good, finally? That his shot was back in alignment, smooth and assured?

“He never does it,” said Patterson. “The Cleveland game (when Lowry scored a career-high 43), he didn’t did that. No matter how he’s feeling, he doesn’t let us know. He’s just playing within the moment.”

***

No. 4: Jackson owes Knicks job to Rambis?Phil Jackson‘s affinity for the triangle offense that won his Chicago and Los Angeles teams a total of 11 NBA championships – even if that offense has had limited success when run by others whose rosters don’t include two Hall of Fame stars – is, at least, an understandable factor in how he might shape the New York Knicks’ search for a head coach. But Marc Berman of the New York Post cites a noted NBA author and relative Jackson insider when exploring a secondary, more deeply rooted reason for Jackson to stick with Kurt Rambis. It might have something to do with guilt and the employment history of Jackson and Rambis, Berman writes:

Phil Jackson may have cost Kurt Rambis a potentially promising head-coaching career back in 1999, back when they didn’t know each other.

Rambis was the hot, young Lakers assistant, coming off a cult-hero playing career in purple and gold during which he won four championships. Rambis passed over head-coaching offers from the Kings and Clippers, believing he had a bright future on the Lakers’ bench.

Indeed, Rambis took over for fired Del Harris in February of the 1999 lockout season as interim, with promises he would become the permanent guy.

Rambis closed with a 24-13 record, lost in the second round to the eventual champion Spurs, but had plans to smooth a frosty partnership between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Late Lakers owner Jerry Buss, his new Staples Center and expensive skyboxes set to debut, changed his mind once Jackson expressed interest. Buss felt he needed a marquee name. Rambis was removed from the staff completely, demoted to broadcaster and, according to the controversial biography “Mindgames,” conducting arena tours.

According to the 2002 biography, Buss’ daughter, Jeanie, who didn’t know Phil Jackson from Andrew Jackson, was furious. Jeanie had been close friends for years with Rambis’ wife, Linda, since the 1980s.

“Mindgames” cited Rambis as “discouraged, confused and bitter.’’ Two years later, in 2001, at Jeanie’s behest, Jackson promoted Rambis to his staff, demoting triangle legend Tex Winter. But Rambis’ head-coaching career never took off.

Jackson’s current Knicks coaching search has been ongoing for 3 ½ weeks, with indications he is leaning toward Rambis. Is Jackson, who won five titles in L.A., making up for 1999?

Knicks general manager Steve Mills reached out to newly freed former Pacers coach Frank Vogel. But it might take a striking turn for Jackson, at his Montana think tank, to hire Vogel.

Roland Lazenby, the “Mindgames” author who is out with a new book on Kobe Bryant in August, said he believes Rambis will be the guy and explained a move that would not go over well with fans on social media.

If Jackson is making up for 1999, it’s in his subconscious.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami isn’t the only conference semifinalist sweating out a big man’s injury; Toronto’s fate might swing on Jonas Valanciunas‘ sprained ankle. … With Dave Joerger out, the Memphis Grizzlies can talk about stability if they like, but it’s a concept with which they’ve had very little experience, writes Geoff Calkins in Memphis. … Joerger was scheduled to spend at least part of his Sunday in Sacramento being interviewed for the vacant Kings coaching job. Though circumstances suggest he’ll likely end up getting hired, there are other candidates in play, at least for appearances sake. … Maurice Harkless and his sore hip might be out of Portland’s rotation for Game 4 . … Acquiring Channing Frye was a bold and expensive move at the trade deadline for the Cavaliers, but it has the look of a difference-maker for Cleveland in its NBA title quest. … Here’s one more look at Howard Garfinkel, the grass-roots basketball legend who died Saturday, as well as some appreciative tweets from fellows whose professional lives he touched. …